PAX East 2016 was the year Virtual Reality REALLY took off. So many VR demos on the expo floor and many other developers had a VR component in the works. These were also the most-desired demos and had the longest lines. I luckily got to try out the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR. Of the many games I played, one stood head and shoulders above the rest – and that game was Drool’s Thumper VR.
Drool is a small studio made up of just two people, Brian Gibson and Marc Flury. Both developers have an impressive history working for Harmonix and this is their indie studio debut into the VR market. Thumper is described as a “rhythm violence game” that definitely hits the nostalgia button on my years spent playing Frequency and Amplitude. It’s scheduled for release later this year for Playstation VR and Oculus Rift via Steam.
The gameplay is deceptively simple. If you’ve played any of the Harmonix titles you’ll understand the general concept: You shoot along this track and different bars of light come down the track at you. For each style of obstacle, you have to do a different move. Some are as simple as hitting X on beat, others a combo of the D-pad and X or holding X down. Rhythmically, this is where the game gets complicated. The obstacles are both coming at a faster and faster pace, but the combos of different moves get tighter and faster and if you miss a single one you explode and have to start the area over. For each set of syncopated attack obstacles you hit correctly you’ll shoot a ball of light at the enemy, who is building this track in front of you as you go.
Musically this game is a dream. The heartbeat of the bass drives deep into you and the tension is incredible. I found myself needing to consciously relax my shoulders after each area because I was so into the game I didn’t even notice. One clever feature that stood out to me is when the obstacles are dropped onto the track in front of you, the change in music indicates what your syncopation and moves need to be for those obstacles. If you’re paying attention at that moment, you already know what you have to do when the obstacles get to you milliseconds later. At the fastest speeds this little bit of extra information is invaluable to making it through alive.
Graphically it’s as if you are flying through space, but you don’t know where you’re supposed to go next. The track warps and changes and could well give a player vertigo with the dips and waves. The enemy drawing the track in front of you makes it so that you don’t know what direction you’re supposed to go to hit the next obstacle until that obstacle is literally on top of you. As difficult as it was I couldn’t stop smiling, the game is beautiful, difficult, and just pure fun to play.
Final Rating: Play It
In some of the more advanced gameplay trailers, it looks like Amplitude’s classic multi-track levels make a comeback in Thumper’s world. I didn’t get to try that within the demo, but just from what I played I can guarantee you – if anything is going to be the headline game for PSVR, Thumper is going to be it. Graphics, immersion, and gameplay are all a step above what I’ve tried to date. This is the future of VR gaming, guys.
Watch the Thumper trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj0pNGvfF_8
– Kerrigan is proprietor of Reverie Cosplay and an avid gamer